Great looking stuff from the Blackmagic pocket cam with Pansonic 14-45mm lens. That’s called nailing the exposure. I have to get this camera.
by STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
(Reposted With Permission)
The movie “12 Years a Slave” is described in a Wikipedia entry presumably written by its makers as an “historical drama film.” It is a British-American production based on the book by the same name published in 1853 by the African-American man, Solomon Northrup, who endured this agony.
“There have been a number of movies about slavery as it really was. I have hardly seen them all, but this one is the most powerful one that I have seen…”
It received a limited release in the United States last month, and will be released in Great Britain in January, 2014.
It will be very interesting to see how wide a release it eventually gets in the U.S. It is hardly likely to be shown in very many, if any, theatres in the South, except possibly in those catering almost exclusively to African-American audiences. It would certainly not be well-received by those Southerners (and others) who refer to the First American Civil War as, for example, the “War of Northern Aggression” (a term used by the new President of the National Rifle Association, a man who refers to President Obama as a “fake President” and to Attorney General Holder as “rabidly un-American”), nor to those who refer to it as the “War for Southern Independence.”
It is fascinating that the first reference cited in the latter document is: “How Should 12st [emphasis added, and yes, that is exactly how it appears in that document] Century Americans Think about the War for Southern Independence?” In that particular article, the author, a Professor of History appropriately enough at the University of the First Secessionist state, South Carolina, entitles the First Civil War “Lincoln’s War to Prevent Southern Independence.” Of course, regardless of what it is called, at the War’s center was the struggle by the Slave Power to preserve slavery in the states in which it already existed and to expand the “peculiar institution” to all of the then-remaining Western Territories. This is a movie that shows the full horror of slavery. Horror, that is, to those who view what was done to one group of human beings by another as a horror. Presumably those who characterize the war as one for “Southern Independence” or whatever, don’t see it that way.
There have been a number of movies about slavery as it really was. I have hardly seen them all, but this one is the most powerful one that I have seen, and other viewers have described it in the same way. In a way, in fact, it is more like a retro-documentary about slavery than it is simply a drama about the subject. Why do I say that? Because first, most viewers are likely to see the film with some foreknowledge of its origin, a true story with a true beginning (Mr. Northrup’s kidnapping), middle (Mr. Northrup’s 12 years in captivity), and conclusion (Mr. Northrup’s return to freedom). And second, because of the way the film is constructed it can easily be seen as a documentary showing slavery in all of its major horrors, consecutively.
Perhaps the most important point of the film is that it clearly illustrates the Southern justification for slavery, that “blacks” were inferior people, not really human you know. (This has always struck me as quite odd. By the 19th century, after end of slave-importation in 1807, there were very few pure African blacks in the United States. Virtually all slaves were thus of “mixed blood.” Did that mean, therefore, that there was something inherently inferior about the white men who fathered all of those mixed African/North American children too?)
The Southern justification for slavery was well-summarized by Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, who, after the death of John C. Calhoun in 1850 had become the principal theoretician of slavery:
“Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural condition [emphasis added].”
And so, serially, the movie illustrates the major features of, to quote Stephens, the “system [that] commits no such violation of nature’s law (sic).” Among them are: the kidnapping of free African-Americans in the North to be sold into slavery; the selling of such people, as property; the separation, by sale, of family members; the constant threat and use of violence against slaves, on any pretext, real or imagined; the practice of lynching, that is extra-judicial execution (even though it meant loss of “property”) of recaptured escaped slaves, primarily to set an example for anyone who thought of trying to escape (lynching of blacks, even in the absence of legalized slavery of course being practiced on a regular basis throughout the South into the 1960s); the use of torture short of lynching; the dreadful working and living conditions; the constant humiliation practiced by the slave-masters; the repetitive rape of female slaves by the slave-masters; the creation of a sub-class of especially docile African-Americans who served on some plantations as intermediaries between the owners and the rest of the slaves; and, until in Mr. Northrup’s case what happens to regain him his freedom, the total lack of any system of justice for any slave. One wonderful irony of the film is that Paul Giamatti, who plays the slave-seller in “12 Years a Slave”, in Tim Burton’s 2001 version of “Planet of the Apes,” itself in part a movie about slavery and the struggle for freedom, played the role of an ape slave-seller in a society in which intelligent apes were the owners, and humans, of any color, were considered an “inferior race” and were the slaves.
As the Confederate Navy Jack, (not the “Confederate Battle Flag,” as we are told by those who are in the know) is waved in front of the White House in an anti-”Obama Care” demonstration; as the former governor of Virginia declares a holiday to celebrate the Civil War but the first time around forgets to mention slavery; as a white woman sends her son out on Halloween in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, saying “it’s supposed to be white with white, black with black, man with woman and all of that; that’s what the KKK stands for;” as Republican candidates and office-holders claim that President Obama was born in Kenya; as Tea Party propaganda is full of racist attacks on the President; as a Republican Congressman in their leadership allegedly tells the President, to his face, “I can’t stand to even look at you:” but most importantly, as the modern Republican Party, all around the nation, is instituting laws designed to take away the vote from African-Americans (and certain of its leadership is saying this more-and-more openly), which happened to be the first self-announced task of the Ku Klux Klan when it was formed in late 1865; it is very important for all of us to understand what slavery, the central focus of secession, the Confederate States of America, and the First Civil War, was all about. In that regard, do see “12 Years a Slave” if it is available where you live.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.
John Pilger examines America’s war on the people of Latin America, the propping up of corrupt regimes and “American interests” as a justification for immoral foreign policy. Movie up at Hulu:
To me, a pontificating Internet blowhard of questionable character, it’s not hard to differentiate a good short film from a bad one. There’s a very easy litmus test, and it usually works. It works so well that I click right on out of there when a film fails this test, and I have a strong suspicion that I’m not alone.
Perhaps festival snob judges use different criteria (a probability). Perhaps the masses use this one.
Here is the magical secret to a short film that is truly worth spreading:
That’s it. That’s the whole ballgame. I can stop writing now. It’s the same criteria for longer works as well, but this basic characteristic, this essential and fundamental property of good film vs. bad is usually the last thing that most amateur filmmakers consider. They obsess over every other aspect of making a movie, the nuts and the bolts. They don’t even consider the editing of the thing until everything is shot. Then they don’t want to cut the excruciatingly boring stuff, because a lot of work went into filming it in the first place. These decisions should have been made at the script stage, in pre-production, thinking about why every shot actually is needed or isn’t. But more importantly: why the shots they have written are boring and don’t convey enough story in a short enough amount of time.
Craft shots that give multiple channels of information to the viewer, instead of leaving viewers waiting, and waiting, and waiting for your God damned pretentious piece of shit to actually start.
That means an inciting incident right at the beginning that can hook people and set up an interesting story. Without front-loading your film with a unique and meaningful opening scene you’re dead. You are done. I have already clicked onto something else, and I have no regrets about leaving you behind.
Now these are general principles, and building it is easier said than done. How does one craft an opening scene that can hook people and ensure they keep watching?
Well no one can tell you that. It’s subjective, entirely dependent on the story. Each story has its own trajectory, its own unique set of parameters, unless you’re copying others and basically stealing (in which case a career on Wall Street might be more appropriate rather than in the arts). Art is supposed to take it to the next level, to build, to make connections that others simply hadn’t made before. Even working in a genre, new situations and consequences can, and must, present themselves. Remakes of popular films tend to innovate new twists. Or else what’s the point? What is the point of shoveling the same story? Why are you, the filmmaker, required at all? A machine can rehash the past, and probably with better efficiency.
But the main problem in most short films I come across (and that is quite a lot) is that they are boring as fucking hell on ice. The opening scenes don’t portend anything at all. They aren’t intricately thought out situations, and they aren’t much of a story. They are banal, trivial, pointless and not worth watching.
Perhaps I’m jaded, not wowed by the ability of twenty-somethings to press record on a DSLR. Perhaps even with filmic visuals the pretty pictures’ complete lack of meaning and drama registers most with me.
Film is dramatic if it is anything. It needs the conflict of opposing ideas (and an educated writer). It needs the spark of antagonism. Something must be off and the resolution unclear. That’s what compels us to keep watching. A camera can meander down all the long boring hallways of the world, but who cares? Each second and each frame of film must be justified: why are you wasting the audience’s time?
When one looks at a photograph he or she can look for a second or for a minute. The choice is up to them.
When one looks at a movie, the duration of every image has been decided by someone else for them. They are powerless, stuck, trapped, helpless, at the mercy of the editor now. Film exists in time. Time is a factor that is a basic fundamental aspect of every shot, every scene, every sequence, and the work as a whole. Time is unique to moving pictures and needs to be considered as an important aspect of the process. It needs to be considered at various stages and reconsidered over and over again until the finished film doesn’t waste the audience’s time at any point.
Wasting a minute of screen time on scenery may not seem like an egregious sin. But with 1,000 people in the audience, you’ve wasted 1,000 minutes of people’s lives on the scenery. That’s not a formula for success, I’m sorry to say, but it happens all the time. Economy in the presentation is paramount.
That means giving people more and more of the story through as many channels as possible. This is where amateurs and professionals tend to diverge.
Reveal vs. conceal is the eternal struggle for writers of all media. When is the correct moment to show something, and will showing it reveal too much, making the story predictable? This is where experience and knowledge make all the difference. Apparently most of these boring films err on the side of concealing everything. They don’t want to give away the ending, and so they keep it all hidden until the last scene. Unfortunately, no one is watching by then. The problem needs a more nuanced approach, a way to reveal a larger truth in tiny increments. These stages of revelation are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that come together and suddenly jump to life at the end. Figuring the correct sequence of incremental revelations (and getting it moving soon) is the crux of the game.
A good film will hit the viewer with sound and imagery in abundance: background sounds, foreground sounds, music, specially chosen sound effects that are relevant to the story, foreground imagery, background imagery, the perfect location, the perfect lighting, the perfect camera motion, a perfect transformation as the drama unfolds during a take. While the student film lingers on some background scenery, the more accomplished film has already conveyed a dozen things about the world, the characters and the conflict to the audience. The interplay of background to foreground in visuals and in audio keeps the watchers watching. Shots should be mined for opportunities to give clues in the background as well as in the foreground, by the first frame as well as the last frame of a shot. The action that unfolds during a shot can convey many different pieces of information, if one abandons linear thinking.
Front-loading, providing sufficient story information up front to set up the narrative through to the end, is the major missing ingredient in bad shorts. The boring films just exist on a simple linear line. The amazing films exist on multiple lines of storytelling, weaving a tapestry. Boring films focus on a single, obvious and unremarkable element, and hope that people will wait for something interesting to happen later – maybe. Films need to start interesting and accelerate from there. Life’s too short.
From Indiewire. The most twisted, poetic mindfuck of the season. I don’t know what to think about this ode to cruelty, psychopathy, nightmares and gore. I don’t really get Rob Zombie or the French author whose psychotic musings overlay the imagery in this “video essay.” But tis the season of the witch, and terror is in the air.
Pudovkin’s 5 Editing Techniques
Plus a fun makeup job.
Red Dragon changes the game and makes digital much more film like at the extremes — where brights clip. Now 16+ stops of dynamic range are captured, making the brights roll off much more convincingly than most digital systems in use today.
Bad digital highlight clipping looks like the stone sidewalk at the bottom right here:
Perhaps a more obvious example would be to just clip the levels from one of Phil Holland’s Dragon still frames (cropped area):
Red Dragon Sensor
What most other sensors would capture
One of the main problems with sensors clipping is that the three color channels do not clip equally, depending on the color of the light. So you may get green channel or red channel clipping, but not the others. This leads to ugly color shifts on faces in very bright hard highlights, such as noir styled lighting (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?). High-contrast situations such as bright sunlight hitting actors’ faces, or bright sun through windows coming into a room, as well as through car windows and dense forests, can be torturous. Also color gels and tungsten lighting are ways that the color shifts and can cause peaking on one channel but not the others.
Here is where a sensor like the Dragon is preferred, as it will not botch the image the way lesser sensors would perform. This is more like film which naturally looks smoother as it flares to white. In terms of really competing with film and even outperforming it, the Dragon is a milestone achievement (despite the claims of manufacturers and hardcore fanboys).